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Given the precarious position international students are in, the students who shared their stories wish to remain anonymous. We at Arthur Newspaper wish to respect their privacy by keeping their names anonymous. At one point in the article, the name ‘Sarah’ is used to protect the identity of one of our sources The writer of this piece is a domestic student who was asked to – and given permission to share the stories in this article.
As the COVID-19 pandemic surged in early March and in-person classes transitioned to online virtual classes, a vast number of international students were left jobless and unable to return to their home countries. In response to the experiences of both international and domestic students, Trent University launched the Student Rapid Relief Fund (SRRF) in early April, with the aim of easing the burden on students facing financial hardship due to the pandemic.
Over 1200 students received financial assistance that totalled up to $675 000. Among the students who received the assistance, many international students were left feeling under-supported, as they found out that they had received less than their domestic counterparts. Especially considering that the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) would become available in May - a program that international students do not qualify for.
It is not news that universities across the country rely heavily on international student tuition in order to carry out their operations. At Trent University, full-time tuition for domestic students is about $8,000 including ancillary and levy fees, whereas international students pay about $21,000 totalling between $35,000 to $40,000 once housing, meals, school supplies and ancillary/levy fees are accounted for.
Unlike domestic fees, international student tuition is unregulated, meaning that the university can increase international tuition by any percentage once it is approved by the Board of Governors. So not only are international fees more than double the amount of domestic fees, but they are also not regulated. This leaves us to wonder - how much of international student tuition goes back to the students in a way that physically, mentally, spiritually and financially supports their academic experience? The COVID-19 pandemic and the University’s response can be used in this case as an example.
The SRRF was launched April 3rd and closed on April 17th, following the COVID-19 emergency student fund that was initiated by the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA). Without a doubt, both initiatives were needed and appreciated by students who otherwise would not have known how to access financial support, but equity still needs to be accounted for. Given this, a few international students have come forward to share their experiences in regards to the amount allocated to them in comparison to their domestic counterparts.
When interviewing one student in particular, who has been an international student at Trent University for the past 5 years, he shared with me that the application form for SRRF was different for both international and domestic students. One of the major differences between the two applications that may have led to this disparity is that domestic students had the option of requesting a specific amount, whereas international students could only just request funding.
“Regardless of being domestic or international, your needs are still the same. Your basic life spending is still in Canada, around Peterborough. So it was a hard blow to understand that they would get… in the thousands, while international students were getting a maximum of [approximately] $600… To base your compensation plan based on international and domestic is a bit unfair.” – 5th year international student
When applying, this student stated in his form that funding from back home had become inaccessible due to COVID-19 and that he hoped to receive at least $600 based on the amount his domestic friends were receiving. He was surprised when he received $250.
Another international student who came forward, shared that she applied with a group of domestic friends who all received $1000 while she received $150. When asked to share that experience, she stated,
“At first I thought it was just me, but then I asked my other international friends and everybody got the same $150. So I sent two emails to the Regional International Recruitment Manager, and she never replied to me… I told her my circumstances, that my dad can no longer send me money and that my rent is $600 a month.” – 4th year international student
Given the amount of money that international students pay for their education, it is quite disheartening to hear that they were given a different pool of funding than domestic students, and that they were not allocated more funding once CESB was announced for all domestic students in Canada. Arthur extended this research to domestic students who applied, and while most domestic students received about $1000, or close to the amount applied for, international students were not even given the option to request an amount.
“It’s kind of unfair that all my friends that are international were receiving literally nothing -while me, a domestic student who actually has a place to live if I got kicked out by my landlord, who has food to eat because my parents live here, who technically has a job, was getting all this money” - Sarah, 4th year domestic student
During my interview with Sarah, she wanted to bring attention to the fact that although she had access to family support on top of the received funds, there are other domestic students who do not live close to their home, and the amount they received would not have been enough to help them financially. While recognizing this, if $1000 was not enough for some domestic students, how would receiving $150 help international students make ends meet.
In hopes of finding out why there were two applications to begin with, Arthur reached out to the University’s Associate Vice President Glennice Burns for a brief overview on the differences between the Domestic and International student applications for the SSRF. We were informed that there had been a fund that some undergraduate international students received emergency funding from prior to the SRRF, and that the two separate applications were due to differences in applicant needs. For example, OSAP eligibility.
When the SRRF was announced it brought a great relief to students - both international and domestic - who were concerned about their financial situations given the lack of access to in-person jobs. While the rise of COVID-19 has brought a great deal of stress to everyone, international students were affected by not only their lack of access to employment, but a lack of access to their home countries, and a lack of access to funding from their families given that some banks became inaccessible.
International students are already the least supported community on campuses across the country. And while Trent University might take for granted that the student population can afford yearly tuition, this is usually at the expense of extreme hard work and family financial sacrifice. Over the years we have seen numerous campaigns being created to support international students, such as the International Students Are Not Cash Cows poster campaign and the Fairness for International Students campaign that was started by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). Yet, their voices and experiences continue to be undermined by the very institutions that would rather extract from their students than support them in a time of great need.